Over the last three weeks, there have been a number of reports of at least one seal in the River Severn and the lower reaches of the River Teme. It has been seen eating salmon, and spawning barbel and chub in a number of different locations many miles apart and several anglers have contacted the Angling Trust with their concerns about the presence of this marine mammal in these rivers, and its potential impact on fish stocks if it is allowed to remain in the river system for an extended period of time. Anglers are particularly concerned that the Teme is a SSSI and the seal could do long term damage to the balance of nature in an area acknowledged by Natural England to “support plants and animals that find it more difficult to survive in the wider countryside”.
Natural England and the Environment Agency have previously made it clear to the Angling Trust that they were unwilling to do anything to assist angling interests when a seal was eating fish and birds at Bewdley, despite the Environment Agency’s statutory duty to ‘maintain, improve and develop fisheries’ and the fact that they have helped with the removal of seals in the past from rivers in Wales.
Therefore the Angling Trust immediately contacted the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) as soon as we were made aware of the seal to ask for their assistance in capturing the animal and returning it to its natural habitat in the sea. The BDMLR remains willing to help with such a capture in principle, but have warned that there are significant practical difficulties with capturing a seal in a river and that the best chance of doing so would be if it regularly hauled-out on the bank in a particular location, whereby it could be caught much more easily than if it is in the water. The BDMLR’s widespread experience of trying to capture seals in rivers is that they are extremely nimble and very strong, and can evade nets with ease even if they appear relatively tame.
The Angling Trust has also contacted the Environment Agency and Natural England to arrange an urgent meeting in the next few days to discuss not only how to address the immediate problem of the seal in the short term but also to investigate long term solutions to protect fisheries and other wildlife in the river Teme and the Severn. These are likely to include the viability of deploying seal scrammers – acoustic deterrents – further downstream on a permanent basis to deter the animals from entering the river. If an appropriate solution can be found, then the Angling Trust will co-ordinate a fundraising initiative to pay for implementation and maintenance based on the cost of that solution. A number of anglers have stated on internet forums that they would be willing to contribute to such an initiative. They are invited to send their contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org, but not to send any money at this stage until a solution has been identified.
The Angling Trust requests that anglers and members of the public urgently report all sightings of seals in the River Severn and its tributaries to email@example.com. Please report all sightings with the date, time, location (please be as specific as possible) and whether the animal was seen on the land or in the river. Until a clear pattern of regular behaviour can be established, there is little hope of capturing the seal and returning it to the sea for its own safety and the protection of the fishery.
Under no circumstances should the seal be approached or contacted in any way. It is potentially dangerous and has shown signs of aggressive behaviour to at least one angler already.